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Balancing the Grind with Chris LeBlanc, Managing Director for 3M Australia & New Zealand

Chris LeBlanc is the Managing Director at multinational conglomerate corporation, 3M Australia & New Zealand.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

As Managing Director of 3M Australia and New Zealand it is my role to lead a company of inventors and entrepreneurs who are actively problem solving and using science to improve lives and address the world’s toughest challenges. 

3M is a global company that makes a lot of different types of products. People might know the company best from the N95 disposable respirators used by frontline health workers, car wraps and window films, command strips, and of course, the humble Post-it Note, but it doesn’t stop there. You are never more than three metres from a 3M product.  

It is my job not only to lead the business, but to create a working environment where every employee feels they are part of something bigger and making a difference.  

I have been with 3M for 16 years, starting out as a Food and Beverage Market Centre Manager in 2005, a few years after my wife and I moved from Venezuela to the Northern Beaches in Sydney. I’ve been at 3M ever since.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

I’m an early riser. I start work at 6am and make sure I do 1,000 sit ups every single day. 500 in the morning and 500 in the evening. During my morning exercise I watch the news, and I like to make my wife a morning coffee as she rises and starts her day! Generally, I’ll listen to an audiobook (currently listening to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg) on my way to work. 

My early start time gets me a few quiet hours in the office to plan the day ahead and try to have some “Chris’ thinking time”. It’s also perfect to connect with my NZ team to make the best use of the time difference. Then, I like to kick things off with three positive things; one of these includes sending a simple thank you note to a colleague (I find this very good practice!).

Another usual practice is to take the team out for a brief walk and coffee-chat before we get stuck into work. It’s a great way to connect and team build before diving into projects.

My evenings are typical, though on Friday nights, my partner and I tend to cook something special while enjoying a nice glass of wine. We use this time to debrief from the busy week and enjoy each other’s company. 

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

The commute to and from the Northern Beaches can be a pain at times, so remote and flexible working arrangements have been great for myself and our team more broadly.

It is a great option to replace commuting time with exercise and of course I love that I have the extra moments to spend with my wife.

We are in the process of transitioning into a hybrid model so staff can safely ease back into the office setting without putting added pressure on resources. Asking people back to the office can be a challenge, as many people have enjoyed working from home, just like myself!

There is also an argument that working from home is just as productive as the traditional model, which is why we’ve implemented an initiative called “Flexibility”. This program is designed to respond to changing work circumstances and gives employees the autonomy to customise when and where they work to best.

This can be adapted depending on role, for example for our R&D and Technical community, they can choose when to be at the Labs to conduct tests and interact with the rest of the team and then, work from home to write reports or white papers. The secret is around maintaining a healthy work-life balance. 

3M is also well known for our entrepreneurial mindset. One of the key elements of our culture that drives this is encouraging staff to invest 15% of their time to proactively cultivate and pursue innovative ideas that excite them. Employees in all areas get the licence to innovate, think creatively and challenge the status quo.

A new local initiative is our “Think Time Fridays”. Our intent is to help give space to staff so that more positive business and personal outcomes can be achieved. It is an agreed standard where we as a business will not schedule internal meetings on Fridays, unless a critical need arises.

It is a recognition that we all need flexibility in the way we operate and an over reliance (or excessive exposure) of virtual meetings detracts from other elements of our roles. In short, it is an opportunity for us to focus on more human elements of our business.  

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I’ve always been passionate about business leadership and a big part of that has been adopting the VUCA leadership principles – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. These principles allow me to view the business strategy in the context of today’s world, which has been particularly helpful throughout the pandemic.

The pandemic has seen people lose jobs and income, with no way of knowing when normalcy will return. The VUCA principles help to identify what the business needs are in a rapidly changing environment, one of which is always a strong work-life balance for staff.

A big part of work-life balance is about giving the organisation a human touch and making sure your employees are okay and not feeling isolated, no matter where they are working from. We have flexible working arrangements in place, though it’s important to make a distinction between work hours and personal time.

We encourage this for staff and making sure they’re comfortable to discuss their concerns with their managers is key. It has never been more important to build business resiliency than in a Covid world. 

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

The hybrid working model has allowed me extra time with family and for my exercise routines, and when working from home, I’ve become more regimented about taking regular breaks. Sometimes it’s easy to stay in front of the computer, and your day can pass by without getting the right balance.

As much as possible, I try not to have meetings on a Friday as I use this time to think and catch-up with pending projects. 

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

One of my favourite books is called Legacy by James Kerr. It’s about the fantastic history of the NZ All Blacks rugby team, their journey to many years on top of the ladder and key learnings around leadership. One of my favourite quotes from the book is:

“Successful leaders balance pride with humility: absolute pride in performance; total humility before the magnitude of the task”  

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

I recently bought a gadget that I am really enjoying – a robot that cleans windows! We have high glass windows in our home which are difficult to reach and maintain. With this robot, the job becomes easier and it’s super cool to watch! Technology and science are making our lives easier.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?  

I would say some extracts from the book: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Enjoy what you do and be passionate about it! Enjoy every day of your life and live life to the maximum! 

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.